Friday, August 26, 2011

Inflated Sense of Self Importance

This has been a crazy week for my friends and family back East. On Tuesday (8/23/11) there was a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Virginia that was felt widely throughout the Eastern part of the country. Friends in Connecticut and State College, PA felt it, and I even heard that people in Boston felt it too. In addition to the earthquake, the whole East coast is bracing itself for hurricane Irene, which should be going through my home state of CT over the weekend.

I don't like natural disasters, but as a geologist I have a weird sense of disappointment that I have never been through an earthquake. I'm not trivializing it, I have an idea of how dangerous and scary they can be. That's not the point. Earthquakes and other major events are demonstrations of the amazing power of natural forces, and I'm fascinated by any event that show that the Earth isn't just a static piece of rock floating through space. By the end of the weekend, people back East will have experienced two powerful forces in a one-week span: a fairly large earthquake and a pretty serious hurricane.

The only thing that is kind of getting under my skin about all of this is the reaction that people are having, specifically "Why is this happening?", or "What did we do to deserve this?" As if there is some reason these things happen beyond chance and the physical sciences. I'm hearing things like "this is because New York legalized gay marriage", or "this is because of Obama". Seriously?? That's not how the Earth works. There are reasons for all of the events that happen, that's for sure. But they have nothing to do with petty human social affairs. When I hear these kinds of things, I feel like we've stepped back into the Dark Ages.

Maybe it's because people feel like bad things need some kind of moral reason for happening. But bad stuff happens all the time, to all kinds of people. We're so absorbed with ourselves, that when something like this happens it feels special because it's "happening to us." But these kinds of things have been happening for as long as the Earth has existed, and they'll keep happening once we're long gone.

My suggestion is that if you want to know why stuff happens, spend some time reading about the physical causes and the science behind it. I know blaming it on "divine retribution" might be easier and make you feel better, but it's total and complete crap. Knowing the real how and why behind things like earthquakes is fascinating. But it sure as hell isn't all about you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of School, Fall 2011

Today was the first of the semester, and I'm still in denial that summer is officially over. In reality, I really only had about 3 months off, which at the beginning seems like a really long amount of time. However, every time I looked at the calendar I was shocked.

It's so weird seeing all the kiddies back on campus. I've actually been hiding out in my office for the most part. The area I'm in now isn't frequented by undergraduates too often, and it's pretty quiet over all. The best part of the first week of school is all the free stuff. This past Friday I was lamenting about how I needed a highlighter, and I was debating whether it was worth it to walk to the bookstore to buy one. Boy am I glad I didn't because I scored three different color highlighters today at a tent near the duck pond. That, AND there was free ice cream this afternoon. Welcome weeks are always chock full of freebies. I hear tomorrow the free food item is watermelon, hopefully tacos or pizza or something will come up later in the week. On Wednesday the department is having a welcome back get together, which should also have food. I think I can sneak away from class long enough to get a snack.

Speaking of class, my Quaternary Paleoclimate seminar starts tomorrow. I hear it's a whole lot of reading all semester long. I'm actually looking forward to it, I need to learn as much about this subject as quickly as possible, since it is a pretty important part of my research.

Other than the free stuff and there being more people on campus, today was pretty much like any other day I've been having this month. I sat in my office, read, and took notes on journal articles. I'm starting to get hungry, so I think I may head home soon.

Matt and I went to Santa Fe yesterday, I'll elaborate on that more in another post.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Get Back to Work!

Over the past couple weeks I have been getting back into work mode. I did pretty good this week getting in at a reasonable time and staying all day in my office working on various odds and ends. School is starting back up in a week, I can hardly believe I'm going to be starting my second year at UNM so soon. If I was going to be teaching again I'm pretty sure I'd be having major anxiety over it, I'd be in a horrible mood. But, I'm actually feeling a little better than I was last week. I'm excited about the upcoming semester, I'm looking forward to getting a lot of my own work done.

This past week I've pretty much been working on trying to find out as much as I can about fossil sites in New Mexico caves. It's been very productive, so I just stuck with that all week. It's now Friday and I feel pretty confident that I have all of the faunas I'm interested in on my computer in a fairly simple spreadsheet. It only took about a day of messing around with the Neotoma Database and about a day and a half of tedious copying from tables in books to get it all together. I have just over a 1000 entries in my new data sheet, now it's just a matter of looking at what I have.

I haven't seen Felisa much this summer. We were at the mammal meeting together back in June, and I've seen her a handful of times around the department. It'll be good to get back to having weekly meetings to see where I'm at with research, and to finally see what we should do next with our book chapter. A couple weeks ago I put together three chapter sections with associated questions which we should address. I think if I had my way I would have us split up the topics and do some literature reviews to see what questions we could address.

I also downloaded some new carnivore data. The original set I had before got messed up, but I think I figured out what went wrong. I briefly looked at the new stuff and it looks like I avoided the problem I had before; however, I can't get fine time bins like I was hoping I could. I'm coming to the conclusion that a lot of stuff really hasn't been dated well, which makes it really difficult to do certain kinds of projects. I can understand, dates are really expensive. I know that when I do my next excavation, I'm going to definitely write some grants for a lot of radiocarbon dates.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Research Experience for Undergraduates

About 45 minutes south of Albuquerque is the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Station. Each summer undergraduates from different universities come to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (RUE) program. Felisa mentored a student, Nikki, from the University of Tennessee at Martin. She works on plant fossils and the project she did for the REU was looking at the plant macrofossils from the middens in our lab. A lot of the other students did research projects at the Sevilleta or the surrounding area, and a wide range of topics.

Yesterday all of that hard research culminated in their REU symposium, where the students gave talks about their research. Many students actually get publishable papers out of the work they do during this program. Nikki with hopefully get two papers. Fred commented that she was comparing the quality of the talks to those we see at professional meetings, not your typical student presentations. The quality was really very good, and I was really impresses with what the students came up with in only a couple months.

There were also two students doing science inspired art projects. One student made nature based art sculptures and took "sincere" photos of the other students doing their research projects. The other student constructed a wind organ and helped the other students make kites (which did and did not fly very well). The idea was to get the research students thinking outside of the box.

I thought the whole thing was fantastic. Way to go students!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rough Couple Weeks

Since coming back to Albuquerque a couple weeks ago I've been having a rough time getting back to normal. Specifically I've been having this constant feeling of anxiety and tightness in my chest, like I can't breath, but my lungs are clear and my asthma isn't acting up or anything. I've been showing all the signs of having mild generalized anxiety disorder.

I'm not sure what has triggered all of this, but a couple of things stick out.

Immediately after I returned from my trip I had to go to the hospital for a procedure. Originally I was going to be on vacation for another week, but my appointment was moved up so I missed out on more time at home. The results of the procedure were disappointing. A day or so after I started having the anxiety symptoms.

After coming back I've been feeling really homesick for CT. Crazy, because I don't miss the place specifically, but only seeing my family a handful of times throughout the year is taking its toll. The past couple of times I've visited home I've felt really sad after leaving, and I meant to visit my dad's grave when I was home, but I was in Virginia when I realized I had forgotten which made me feel like crap. Since getting back in to town I've been having upsetting dreams.

Last week I was going over some analyses for my research, and I realized I had overlooked something. The pattern I had been seeing in my data doesn't appear to be significant now, so I don't know what that leaves me for that project. Furthermore I don't know if I have the kind of personality that works in academia. I'm not super competitive. I'm modestly driven, but I get bogged down and stressed out pretty easily. I don't know if a high stress career is such a good move.

About two weeks after my hospital let down and a week after my research realization I developed shingles, which has only added to my discomfort. My doctor prescribed some antiviral medication, but told me that stress was probably the trigger for the outbreak.The health center sees their greatest increase in occurrences around finals week. But it's the middle of the summer. What the hell am I so worked up over?

I don't want to complain. I hate admitting that I don't feel good, but I need to let it out somewhere. I look around and I have a lot going for me, but I've been in a slump for over two weeks, and I don't know how to articulate how I'm feeling. My therapist thinks I'm still grieving over my dad, but it's been so long. I hate to think that every time something bad happens I'm going to have a delayed and drawn out process of getting over it. How am I supposed to function and live my life if I can't predict or control how I feel?

Maybe I need to go home more often, or call home more often. Maybe I need to cut down on my personal responsibilities until I get everything under control. I see my therapist again next week, I'm going to talk to him about medication options. Am I depressed? I've always been very tightly would and high strung. I worry now that my personality is going to make me sick. I had been feeling pretty good for a couple months, but it's like I go a period of time feeling fine, and then I get sucked back into a hole. I eventually come out again with some time. This week has actually been a bit better, I've been sleeping a little better over the past couple days.

I was supposed to avoid strenuous activity for two weeks after my procedure. Now that I can exercise again maybe that will help.